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Road test: Lexus IS is luxury meeting fun

The new Lexus IS.
The new Lexus IS.

SHEDDING stereotypes is the task before the Lexus IS.

Renowned for being safe in styling and performance, the luxury Japanese brand has taken big strides during recent years to add some excitement to its line-up.

And this latest IS range builds on the dynasty started a few years back by the V8-powered IS F and the LFA supercar.

Retaining the traditional lines of the IS sports sedan, there are enough changes to please existing Lexus fans while also enticing new buyers into showrooms.

Prices have risen slightly over outgoing models, but Lexus has thrown in some new kit which improves value and still trumps the European rivals spec for spec.

And for the first time there is a hybrid model. That will please those who have deep pockets and prefer to keep it that way with miserly fuel consumption.

Comfort

Inside, there is extra space which is especially appreciated by those in the back seat. An extended wheelbase and other refinements result in an additional 85mm of rear legroom.

The centre console is quite large and up front there is a feeling of being cocooned rather than spaciousness.

Redesigned dash treatments maintain the lavish interior feel. Although, while the top section with its analogue clock and 17.7cm colour screen appear upmarket, the utilitarian operations for the stereo and air con appear basic apart from the groovy air temperature controls.

Lexus has done a stellar job with the front pews. They are wonderfully supportive from all angles, especially laterally and at the lumbar. We could be easily persuaded into the F Sport models with the optional dark rose leather.

On the road

Stark improvements have been made across the IS range. Once floaty and beige, Lexus has engineered greater rigidity with outstanding results.

The two V6 powerplants have similar performance attributes as the outgoing models but the gains in handling have provided renewed youthful enthusiasm to the ageing donks.

During a stint at Phillip Island race track, the IS350 strutted its stuff with excellent grip and sporty acumen - accompanied by a remarkably sporty note played from the exhaust. Its raspy sounds are brilliant inside and out.

Greater steering balance and poise offers a more direct feeling and you can throw the sports sedan around with self-belief.

But the 300h is truly the surprise package. You continually have to remind yourself that it's a hybrid beneath the skin.

During some testing twisty terrain the hybrid coped admirably with sharp handling and instantaneous acceleration response. It was only found wanting when really pushed hard - points which the majority of

drivers will never want to or feel the need to reach.

Those seeking extra performance would be well served by the IS350 S Sport with its ultra-sharp eight-speed automatic box offering rapid-fire shifts and always managing to find the right cog.

What do you get?

Standard equipment includes satellite navigation, reversing camera, pop-up hood (for pedestrian safety), smart entry with push button start, dual zone air con, heated and ventilated leather accented front seats, digital radio, eight airbags (10 on up-spec models), cruise control and Bi-Xenon HID headlamps.

The specification improves as you move up the tree, with the athletic gear on the F Sport particularly alluring.

Later this year IS buyers will also have an "Enform" function at their fingertips. By using the connected smartphone, it can access a 24-hour call centre to assist with a range of services, like finding a restaurant, contacting a local dealer or calling roadside assistance.

It's not set-up yet, but will go live before December and the functionality will be a simple software update for those who buy before it's officially launched.

Practicality

Thankfully, the IS now comes with 60-40 split fold rear seats which drastically improves its loading flexibility. Even the hybrid rear seats can drop with its battery stored below the boot floor.

Boot space has improved (480 litres for V6 models and 450 for hybrids) which is good enough or about three golf bags.

Two adults can fit in the back seat, even accommodating those about 185cm as long as front passengers don't slide too far back.

Running costs

Both V6s return about 10 litres for every 100km, which is not bad but not ground-breaking. Many of the Europeans are opting for turbo four-cylinders nowadays for better economy returns.

Yet here is where the hybrid shines. It's official figure is a class-leading 4.9 litres/100km, and given parent company Toyota's success with this technology there is no doubt this can be achieved in real world driving. Servicing, too, is at the cheaper end on the luxury scale while Lexus has one of the most generous owner programs available.

Funky factor

While maintaining the IS styling essence, this latest model will woo some considering European rivals.

The spindle grille, lower stance and L-shaped running lights are standout features up front, and we love the rocker panel which swoops up at the rear wheels and links with the tail lights.

Without doubt, the show-stopper is the F Sport variants with more aggressive treatments to the bumper and slicker 18-inch alloys.

What matters most

The good stuff: Nice soundtrack with the V6 models, 60-40 split-fold seats on all models, improved levels of grip and cornering abilities.

What we'd like to see: Improved fuel efficiency on V6s, lower prices on safety options such as radar cruise control and lane keep assist.

Warranty and servicing: Four-year/100,000km warranty (eight-year battery warranty) with roadside assist. Servicing is annually or 15,000kms.Lexus also gives you a loan car during servicing.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: Lexus IS.

Details: Four-door rear-wheel drive sports sedan.

Engines: 2.5-litre V6 generating maximum power of 153kW @ 6400rpm; 3.5-litre V6 233kW @ 6400rpm and 378 @ 4800rpm; 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid 164kW (combined power) @ 6000rpm and 221Nm @ 4200-5400rpm.

Transmissions: IS250 - six-speed automatic, IS350 - eight-speed automatic, IS300h - continuously variable automatic.

Consumption: IS250 - 9.2 litres/100km; IS350 - 9.7L/100km; IS300h 4.9L/100km.

CO2: IS250 - 213; IS350 225; IS350h 113.

Bottom line: IS 250 - Luxury $55,900, F Sport $64,900, Sports Luxury $77,900. IS 350 - Luxury $65,000, F Sport $73,000, Sports Luxury $84,000. IS 300h - Luxury $58,900, F Sport $67,900.

Topics:  lexus motoring review road test


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